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Monday, August 11, 2014

Fear of Passing Out: A Common Phobia

by Dr. Lindsay Kramer, psychotherapist and staff writer at The April Center For Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles

Asthenophobia, or the fear of passing out, can often stem from a history of panic attacks or panic disorder.  During a panic attack, a person experiences heightened anxiety that leads the body to the “fight or flight” response.  This intense response produces a surge of adrenaline, feelings of anxiety and panic, and an urge to escape whatever situation is threatening survival.  This reaction can be useful, if one is faced head-on with a hungry animal that is looking for its next meal.  However, panic attacks occur out of context—the physical reactions are the same, but the danger is only perceived as real.  Panic attacks are accompanied by other physical elements, for instance, lightheadedness, dizziness, and weakness.  They can also induce a feel of “faintness” in a person, which causes one to believe they might pass out. 
Research has depicted that the majority of people who have a fear of fainting have never actually passed out.  Let’s take a moment and clarify the definition of fainting—it is a sudden, brief loss of consciousness and posture caused by decreased blood flow to the brain.  In people who suffer from Asthenopobia, anxiety is produced by a fear or a belief of fainting rather than the actual act of fainting.  

Does this all make sense?  People who have a phobia of passing out fear the experience of passing out.  This phobia is typically developed when one has undergone an embarrassing fainting episode in public.  It could be panic-induced or from a medical condition such as anemia.  The event might become solidified in the mind, which leads the person to fear any type of bodily sensation that is associated with fainting (i.e. dizziness, weakness, or shortness of breath).  The person then avoids situations that can induce these sensations.  In extreme cases, obsessions about passing out may develop.  Asthenophobics tend to avoid strenuous exercise, public places, and crowds of people.  Understandably, this can have a significant negative impact on one’s life.

The fear of passing out is attached to the concern of losing control.  I mean, this makes sense—passing out equates to loss of consciousness, in which state we do not have control.  It is important to understand that it is the anxiety that causes us to feel that we are not in control.  We do actually have control.  That being said, let’s move on to treatment.

Anxiety specialists that use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are the proven treatment choice, as shown in countless research studies.  These trained anxiety doctors can help you challenge and change ineffective and destructive thought patterns which lead to feelings of panic and anxiety.  CBT also helps reduce the unwanted feelings while simultaneously building healthy and adaptive coping mechanisms.  Anxiety specialists can also provide psychoeducation for people who are suffering from Asthenophobia.  This involves distinguishing between fears and feelings of fainting and the actual physical act of passing out.  

As always, anxiety therapists at the April Center are specifically trained to address fears and phobias, including Asthenophobia.  If you believe you or someone you know may suffer from the phobia of fainting, please seek help immediately.  Let’s end the suffering together, and put you on the path to a healthy and happy life.

All the best,  
from The April Center For Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles

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